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@Carolyn Ann - what's interesting is that the service was much better here in the US than it ever was in Italy. When I'm overseas, I tend to expect self service all the way and almost no communication with the store's staff. One other thought I had about communicating with your customers is that once you open a channel, they will expect you will keep that channel open. There is a lesson in there for those who wish to engage in social media. At some point I wanted to buy a Vespa, but ended up buying another type of bike from Piaggio.

@Adam - The Benetton model here in the US is by and large a franchise. At some point there was a third store in Philadelphia that was not so far from the one in center city. That store was under another franchise and it carried a different inventory. I liked discovering new items there, but the store staff was not as friendly nor as helpful as that of the others. Placing more importance and effort on who you serve will pay dividends in the long run. That's how brands are able to extend into new lines or expand current offerings. Well said!

What is clear about Benetton is that they are stuck in a mindset of being a vendor of clothing without ever realizing that they have a CUSTOMER to think about and a BRAND that cements the relationship between retailer and customer (and that might mean more than the company realizes to that customer). And it's clear from Valeria's comments that they were very good at the retail part, but they have failed to think more completely and holistically about how they market and merchandise. To me, that is what led to the lapse she noted.

Benetton management can only think in a product/channel context -- selling clothing in brick-and-mortar retail locations, that's it -- but that makes it hard to do anything outside of this context. In this case, reaching out to a customer to let her know the store is closing would require thinking about maintaining that customer relationship over the longer term and focusing on the importance of the company's brand equity over the longer term. Benetton shouldn't care WHERE you shop; instead, the company should be more concerned about maintaining a brand relationship with a customer wherever she is and however she wants to shop. But it's clear that this is not the case. To them, Valeria was a customer of the local store, and once that store is closed ... you get the picture. That is clearly being played out in their marketing communication strategy. Once the channel is closed, there is no reason to talk with her. And online? Can't even envision what that would look like!

I think it's instructive for all brands that are so dependent on a single channel and/or product. It's important to think more broadly about what your brand means -- what's at the core of its mantra and of the relationship between customer and brand. First, it opens up thinking about new products and services you can offer to that customer. Second, it makes you think more about the customer relationship and customer communication (and the customer brand experience) across multiple channels and mediums, and it makes you realize that what is most important at the end of the day is who you serve and how you do it, not what you serve (as fashion trends and apparel items come and go).

This is a good, anecdotal case study in the dangers of managing (or not) your brand with blinders on and the damage that can inflict on the customer-brand relationship!

I once bought a dress at Benetton; it was nice, lasted a few years, and the store people let me try it on. :-) (It shrank, or I grew... :-( )

That was at that their store in the Village; I think it was on Broadway, just down from 8th St.

The lack of order form can be explained by their cutting back not just on printing, but on the person who puts the order form together, and the people who process those orders. The web just makes it cheaper for them!

I've had a few really good retail experiences, and a many more really awful ones.

Ducati gets it right with their products - but if you need spare parts, you have to wait for weeks. They closed their US warehouse; I once had to wait 5 weeks for brake parts. (In contrast, the instrument cluster - it needed replacing after I dropped the bike (in the driveway, no less!) came after only a couple of weeks. Customs, and all that.)

The dealership (DeSimone, in Cherry Hill, NJ) are superb. I'd go back there to more Ducati's - anytime! The sales guys are wonderful- knowledgeable, honest and, I thin, genuinely appreciate your business.

My nearest Vespa dealership, on the other hand was a mixed bag. I'd buy another bike from them, but I'll never use them for servicing. Not only did the Service Manager curse someone out - while he was holding the phone, and before he said "Service, can I help you?", he insisted I turn up at a specific time. For a place that's an hour or more - depending on traffic - away. I told him that I wasn't making a doctor's appointment - they get the bike, ask me a few questions, and I pick it up when it's ready. Nooo, he insisted. I hung up.

Here I am, able to service my own bikes, but I take one to dealer because I trust them, and I refuse to go near the other one - because they didn't show the same wonderful attitude that I had with their sales people! (Who actually switched a bike for me, when it turned out I couldn't register it in New Jersey!)

(I'm not going to talk about the problems I had with the Royal Enfield. I had to wait 5 months between buying the thing, and being able to register it! But that was New Jersey and India, not the importer or the dealer's fault.)

Ah, you've got me reminiscing! The store in San Francisco that not only let me try the dress on - the lass insisted I did so, and then got her co-worker (to be quite non-PC, a real Flaming Queen) to adjudicate my choices. I did, finally, find something that he liked!

Customer service. A lost art, it seems.

(I don't shop like a man. But you might have guessed that. :-) )

Carolyn Ann

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